Greek life is one of the most misunderstood organizations/systems that I know of. The sad part about this is that it's often due to the actions of members of the Greek community that results in this general misunderstanding of our system and what we actually hold important. I'm fortunate enough to come from an institution where Greek life does to meet the stereotypical expectation of being the place for people to party. Sure, we partied, and depending on the person and the chapter in question you may have partied more often than others. That being said, depending on the person or chapter involved, your idea of a party may have meant sleep overs in the chapter room, pranks on your sisters (or brothers), or working to create a better and more inclusive Greek community. However, we had a fairly active Greek community. I would estimate that approximately two-thirds of the major student leaders on our campus were Greek - we were in SGA, Community Living, Campus Ministries, student activities, and a wide variety of honor societies. And we actually worked hard and strove to do good on our campus.
Disclaimer: obviously this statement can't be applied to EVERY member of the Greek community on my campus. But it applied to far more than you're probably thinking.
It's no secret among my friends that I often struggled with my Greek affiliation, and that I would tend to have some personality clashes with some of my sisters. Despite these differences in opinion on how to run our chapter, ways that we presented ourself on campus, etc., being Greek was still a fantastic experience, and joining a Greek organization was definitely one of the best choices that I made while in undergrad. Ask me about my involvement in Panhellenic recruitment and I can easily rattle on for HOURS about how great of an experience I had as a recruitment counselor.
Last night I had the opportunity to chat with a few of the FSU RAs and students at one of their programs. One of these individuals noticed my Greek lavaliere, which resulted in the "Oh you're Greek? So am I!" conversation, with a slight twist. Unfortunately, this individual decided to leave the Greek community because it ended up not being all that they had hoped it would be.
Being highly involved in SGA as high school student, and eventually becoming the president, they had been advised by the former SGA president to become Greek when they went to college. At her institution, SGA was predominantly led by members of the Greek community, and Greek members were the students on campus that had the most impact. So obviously if you wanted to be involved in SGA, you should go Greek. Unfortunately, they learned otherwise upon their arrival. While yes, Greek members play a large, and apparently a rather dominant, role in SGA and other student organizations, the impact that this particular chapter had on campus was not nearly as great as this individual had hoped, and the chapter's focus wasn't what they had claimed it would be.
Disclaimer: I do not believe that in order to make an impact on your campus that you must be a member of the Greek community. Some of my closest friends, individuals who are some of the strongest and best students leaders on campus, are not Greek individuals. And the impact that they've made on their campus is immeasurable.
I'm under no illusions that Greek life is the same at every institution. Many schools, especially larger state institutions, tend to fall into that stereotypical Greek organization category. Sure, their large numbers mean that larger checks may be written to their designated philanthropies, but the number of actual philanthropic events held are few and far between. At those schools, Greek life is certainly more of a social status than it is about making an impact on your campus and in your community. I'm all for fun, I really am. And while the Greek community should definitely be and have fun, I'm 99.99% sure that each and every one of our organizations has something in its mission, ritual, or open motto about how your actual purpose is to further advance your members, your institution, and/or to do good for any and all that you can. Several Greek organizations were founded upon Christian principles, the main of which is to help those that are less fortunate than you: the weak, the downtrodden, the outcast. If you're not striving to live up to your organization's standards, if you are not living your ritual every day, then you might want to consider taking off your letters.
Greek life struggles with the way it is perceived by non-Greek members, institution administrators, as well as the general population. We, as Greeks, should be doing everything we can to refute the bad image that other Greek life members unfortunately give us. Because if each and every one of us did this, then there wouldn't anyone left to give us a bad image. And then maybe everyone would see how great of a community that Greek life really is.